Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Numbers Don't Lie

The main contention of those Old Town residents who support Boardman Lake Avenue is that this north-south road will solve east-west traffic.

I wanted to test this hypothesis. I collected the traffic count numbers from the Gourdie Fraser studies.

-p. 14, Gourdie Fraser Engineering Study for Boardman Lake Avenue, 1994, (traffic counts done predominantly in July, including July 5th!, and August, 1989)

-Table III-1, Gourdie Fraser Engineering Study Update, 1998, (traffic counts done predominantly after Memorial Day and early June, 1990)

I took those numbers and put them into a table (link to a MS Excel sheet).

The numbers show:

-Traffic on Cass St is predominantly downtown traffic. If Boardman Lake Avenue was going to take traffic off Cass St north of 14th then there should be a large difference in traffic on Cass north and south of Eighth St.

There isn't:
10,580 on Cass south of 8th is about equal to 9,699 on Cass north of 8th St.

This confirms that many people on Cass are heading downtown.

-Traffic decreased by 30% on Cass St between Eighth and Fourteenth from the traffic counts done in 1989/1990 versus 1997.

-Traffic on Eighth and Fourteenth streets are not related.

If traffic was using 14th St to get to 8th then these numbers should be roughly equivalent.

17,715 on 14th St is much less than the 29,609 vehicles on 8th east of Boardman Ave.

-We already have a Boardman Lake Avenue. It is Lake Ave and only 3,074 vehicles per day were using it in 1998.

-So what about the 14,514 vehicles on Cass St south of 14th?

14,514 vehicles on this stretch.

3,074 on Lake Ave + 10,580 on Cass St north of 14th = 13,654

This shows that we are not dealing with east-west traffic but north-south traffic into and out of downtown.

-If we assume the projections from Gourdie Fraser are correct (although there is no basis for them), then 18,000 vehicles will be speeding up and down the shore of Boardman Lake on the new avenue. This is equivalent to the traffic on 14th St between Union and Division. Have you ever tried to cross 14th St as a pedestrian? Why would we do this to our Boardman Lake trail? This avenue would completely cut off the neighborhood while increasing overall traffic.

Other numbers from

-The population of Grand Traverse County has declined by 2.5% since 2000, and the population of Traverse City has declined 4.5% since 1990.

-15,266 people come into Traverse City to work (105% of the population). 76% of them drive. The leave for work at 8 AM and return at 5 PM. Their drive is 10-20 minutes each way. And 90% of the cars are single occupancy.

Other numbers:
-In 1989 gasoline average $1.72/gallon in today's dollars, in 1997 it was $1.68. (Source: DOE, Retail Motor Gasoline and On-Highway Diesel Fuel Prices, 1949-2009)

-5 yr average gasoline prices from GasBuddy

What these numbers mean to me are the traffic counts from the 1990's are unreliable due to being taken in the summer tourism season; more people drive when gas prices are lower; the city population is getting older and declining; and currently jobs require people to come into the city.

That leaves me with these questions:

-Is this a problem that requires a $5 million solution?

-Why would traffic decrease on Cass St? How do we still not know where traffic is coming and going?

-If brownfield funds become unavailable (See
IPR: State Tax Reforms Could Diminish Interest In Urban Redevelopment) is this road a prudent investment by the city?

-Whatever people perceive this traffic problem to be, is it a problem that will exist with $5+/gallon gasoline? With a smaller city population? With more people telecommuting?

-When you look at the number of commuters heading into downtown for work, is this a problem that can be solved with a new street? Do we have a traffic problem or a housing problem?

-Is this a driving problem or a people problem? Cities are for people, right?

That's why cities all over are tearing out highways rather than building new ones. As described in this CS Monitor story:
Downtown need a makeover? More cities are razing urban highways
...cities across the United States look to erase some of the damage from urban highway construction of the 1950s and '60s – tearing up or replacing the roadways and attempting to restitch bulldozed neighborhoods.

We all want the same thing. We want a safe neighborhood with slower traffic going through it. And these numbers leave me unconvinced that the proposed Boardman Lake Avenue will make Old Town a safer place.

Theme song for this post from The Mynabirds, "Numbers Don't Lie"